Concentrates, a rapidly growing segment of the legal marijuana market, reduce the plant to its chemical essence. The point is to get as high as possible. And it works.

Manufacturing concentrates involves using solvents like alcohol, carbon dioxide and other chemicals to strip away the plant’s leaves and then processing the potent remains. The final products can resemble cookie crumbles, wax and translucent cola spills.

The final product from manufacturing concentrates can resemble cookie crumbles, wax and translucent cola spills.
The final product from manufacturing concentrates can resemble cookie crumbles, wax and translucent cola spills. Illustration: George Wylesol

A standard method of concentrate consumption, known as dabbing, uses vaporizing devices called rigs that resemble bongs, but instead of a bowl to hold the weed, there’s a nail made from titanium, quartz or a similarly sturdy material. The dabber heats the nail with a blowtorch and then uses a metal tool to vaporize a dab of concentrate on the nail.

Common sense suggests a dabbing habit could be more harmful than an ordinary marijuana habit, but the research is limited. Visually, the process is sometimes compared to smoking strongly stigmatized drugs like crack and crystal methamphetamine.

For years, dabbing has been considered an outcast subculture within the misfit world of cannabis. With so many companies angling to associate themselves with moderate use for functional adults, many want nothing to do with dabbing.

But as cannabis consumption has moved into the mainstream, dabbing has followed. Today a number of portable devices aim to deliver the intense high of dabbing concentrates in a more user-friendly way. At cannabis industry parties, there’s often a “dab bar” where attendants fire up the rigs, and wipe off the mouthpieces after each use. Machines called e-nails allow users to set a rig’s exact temperature to maximize vapor and flavor. On YouTube, there’s a lively competition among brain surgeons and rocket scientists to see who can inhale the heftiest dab.

Strong west coast weed can approach 30% THC. Concentrates, which dispensaries sell by the gram, range between 60% and 80%, but they can be even stronger. One form called crystalline is reportedly 99% THC. (The oil in increasingly ubiquitous vape pens can also be 70% or higher THC but it’s vaporized in smaller doses.)

Concentrates aren’t a new concept; hash or hashish, the compacted resin of the cannabis plant, has been used in central and south Asia for more than 1,000 years. But legalization in North America has laid the groundwork for innovation in the craft. As with most things cannabis, concentrate fanatics can argue endlessly about their preferences – solvent-free, whole-plant, resin, live resin, shatter – and the uninitiated struggle to discern much difference in the effect.

Europeans have long considered hash mixed with rolling tobacco standard fare. In the US, which is less convenient to the hash-making centers of north Africa and central Asia, it was a rare delicacy, vaguely remembered from a vacation in Spain. Then roughly a decade ago, serious west coast stoners started experimenting with various concentrates with oozy textures like honey and butter, or budder”.

Concentrates extracted using butane gas became highly sought after. Butane is colorless, odorless and can explode at the slightest provocation. The blasts can be powerful enough to blow up a house and leave the artisan covered in severe burns. The danger, and the ready comparison with methamphetamine labs, has not helped with dabbing’s image problem.

With legalization, however, some states offer companies licenses to make “volatile solvent” extracts in a controlled setting. Meanwhile, some devices aim to refine dabbing into a less messy and intimidating process. A company called PuffCo produces a “smart rig” which resembles a lava lamp and doesn’t require a torch. The sleek device is meant for a new kind of dabber.

Along the same lines, a brand called the Clear offers discreet high-THC vape pens in flavors like banana cream and blueberry, which target a broader audience than concentrate purists. Says Justin Pentelute, CEO of the company that licenses the Clear: “The target user, in my opinion, is everyone.”


Wanna get really high? Take a dab in the world of concentrates